This past Tuesday night, my husband and I were watching the Charlie Brown Christmas video. At 10:30, we had reached the place in the video where Linus takes center stage with his blanket and starts to explain what Christmas is all about.
Just at that moment, an explosion went off in our neighborhood. We didn't know where it came from but we knew it was near. It was too loud to be a shotgun and it literally came out of nowhere, without warning. It wasn't a tree crashing due to high winds. Andi t wasn't thunder, as much as we wanted it to be one of those two explanations.
My husband went outside but couldn't see any problems.
When the explosion occurred, the first words out of my mouth were, "I'm scared! Should we get on the floor?"
We never finished the video and in fact, we almost didn't go to sleep that night. Basically, we sat and listened for we weren't sure what - another explosion? Emergency sirens? We didn't know.
When things remained calm, we finally went into a fitful sleep, the Charlie Brown video forgotten.
The next day a neighbor, when asked, admitted that one of their friends had set off a firecracker in a culvert. This comforted me but it turned out to probably not be true. That evening when I told my husband the firecracker explanation, he just looked at me and said there was no way. He said it just about had to be someone putting gun powder in a pipe, i.e, a pipe bomb.
As I had walked around our little area Wed. afternoon, trying to find out what the explosion could have been and exactly where it came from, I not only heard the "fire cracker" story but also got a glimpse into the troubled lives of some of those who live near us. I know their heartache and sometimes scary worlds are just around the corner from mine but when things are quiet, it's easy to pretend that they aren't, if that makes sense.
I really felt fear come over me last Tuesday night and finding out that the explosion was only a couple of houses away from ours didn't make the fear any better. Nor did finding out that the people who set the "fire cracker" off are known in the neighborhood for struggling with addictions as well as domestic abuse.
How can a world of heartache like that exist just a little beyond the threshold of my own world? And how can it so easily impinge on my own world of Christmas cookies, music, and Charlie Brown videos?
And perhaps more to the point, how do I cope with such knowledge?
I've decided that I really can't. It's too deep for me, too scary. Bottom line: I can't assuage my neighbor's heartache any more than I can guarantee that their own troubles won't ever impinge on our lives again. Simply put, I don't have any quick solutions for them or life warranties for me. Even if I moved away from them, I still wouldn't have any guarantees.
This morning, as our pastor addressed the children in the congregation, he talked about making time for Jesus during this hectic season. Another irony. This season is, theoretically, all about Him. Yet in our hurried schedules to shop, bake, fight traffic, shop some more, clean house, and then do it all over again, it's sometimes hard to find space for Jesus, for time alone with Him. This too is a scary thought. What if Christmas comes and goes and I never even sit at His feet? Not once? Is it that easy to shut out the Son of God?
When the pastor addresses the children, he usually shows a short video clip to get their attention. This morning, to our surprise, the video clip was from Charlie Brown's Christmas Story. I'm seriously telling you that the pastor started the video exactly where we stopped it last Tuesday when the explosion occurred.
Phil and I looked at each other in disbelief. I mean, it's not every Sunday that you go to church and see Linus, in living color, holding his blanket and calmly reciting the Christmas story...
For me, the irony of seeing Linus pick up exactly where he left off (!) last Tuesday night at our house - well, that was no coincidence. It doesn't matter if anyone else agrees with me - seeing "the rest of the story" this morning was a God thing for us. It was a reminder that no matter what danger or heartache exists around us (and often within us) that the Christmas story goes on.
Christ didn't come to a world of jauntily clad snowmen,bright carolers out in the snow, stunningly lit Christmas trees, and calm, silent nights.
He came to a world that was full of violence and pain, to an oppressed people living under the iron rod of ancient Rome. He was born in a stable (or some say, a cave) and I can't imagine that. I gave birth to our son in a birthing room, well-lit, with all the accouterments of home mixed with all the advances of medical science.
If I find it frightening to live in a well-lit house just a fourth of a block away from someone experimenting with gun power, would I feel any safer huddled in a stable in a world where a king could, with just a snap of his fingers, give the order to exterminate all children under the age of 2 years old?
The world has never been a "safe" place. It just hasn't. The human heart has always had a deep reservoir for pain and pain often, ironically, drives us to inflict more pain. On ourselves. On each other. On our neighborhoods. On our world.
Jesus came because He knew our good would never be enough to outstrip our anguish and/or outweigh our capacity for evil. Or our capacity to fear, for that matter.
He made Himself vulnerable for us. And the announcement of his birth, ironically, was first made to the lowest of society, outcasts, shepherds staying up all night on a forsaken hillside, probably just wishing the long night would be over so they could go home and get warm. Maybe discussing politics and how much they hated and feared the Romans. Maybe wondering if the political zealots of that day would wind up getting them all killed (which they would). Maybe saying how they wished Herod would kick the bucket so that life would be less scary, better somehow.
" And then suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before them... and the glory of the Lord shone around them..."*
I bet the glory of the Lord lit up the whole night sky a zillion times more than the street lights in our neighborhood do.
I bet those shepherds had mouths hanging open and knees that were buckling.
I bet all thought of politics and warm beds (and broken neighbors who do crazy things late at night) just flew right out of their minds.
Why? Because God had shown up.
In the form of a baby.
"And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people..."**
Do not be afraid...
For I bring you good news...
of a great joy...
For all peoples...
This is the answer to my neighbor's craziness and to my own fear.
God with us.
* Luke 2: 9
**Luke 2: 10